Administration must call out antisemitism for what it is

Hannah Masling

When I learned that swastikas and “fuck Jews” had been scrawled on Wilson’s bathroom walls, I was shocked. But shock aside, I felt confident in the administration’s capacity to address these horrific expressions of antisemitism. I was wrong, naive even, to assume that antisemitism would be taken seriously.

After reading Principal Kimberly Martin’s email regarding the bathroom vandalism and other antisemitic incidents in Tenleytown, I was confused. Why was she speaking of generic “hate symbols” rather than swastikas? Why was she warning against language that is “offensive to any group” when the language was specifically offensive to Jews? And why was she preaching that “the diversity of culture, race, sexuality, gender, and religion within the Wilson community is something to be celebrated” when the incident specifically threatened religious diversity? Nowhere to be found was the word antisemitism. 

That is where the fear settled in. Not after seeing “fuck Jews” next to a swastika in my own school, but upon understanding the deep-rooted disregard for the Jewish struggle.

I can understand why the absence of a single word might not seem dramatic to some. But as a Jew, the absence of that single word felt like a lack of interest in the safety of Jewish students. By vaguely describing the vandalism as “hate,” Martin failed to acknowledge the antisemitic intentions of the graffiti and the harm it directs at Jews. Though the swastika—a symbol of the genocide of more than six million Jews—has evolved from a representation of antisemitism to a more encompassing representation of white supremacy, it is undeniable that the swastika depicted next to “fuck Jews” had an antisemitic aim. 

After receiving Martin’s first email, I sent a respectful, yet serious reply about the insensitivity of avoiding the topic of antisemitism. Yet again, I was naive to think that Wilson’s administration actually intended to address the concerns of Jewish students: “Thanks so much for reaching out. I appreciate your feedback,” Martin replied, followed by a suggestion that I attend a Diversity Task Force meeting. Was a cut and paste email really the best Martin could do to address the fears of a Jewish student?

My disappointment intensified when I read Martin’s second email regarding the antisemitic incidents. She spoke of ending “racism and intolerance,” and making “antiracism” the school’s priority. Of course, fighting racism and intolerance is incredibly important, but Martin’s failure to disavow anti-Semitism minimized the importance of bigotry towards Jews and lumped the fight against anti-Semitism into the much broader fight against racism. 

Wilson’s refusal to call the incidents anti-Semitic is disgraceful; two emails and a meeting held after school hours are insufficient. There was no assembly. No announcement. No in-class discussions about what happened. The administration’s language glossed over and generalized the Jewish struggle, insinuating the unimportance of confronting antisemitism. •